Rishi Sunak urges his cabinet to think of ‘future generations’ and back his flagship smoking ban, No 10 says

Rishi Sunak has urged his cabinet to think of “future generations” and back his flagship smoking ban as he seeks to avoid humiliation at the hands of his own party.

No 10 said the prime minister believes that building “a better future for our children” involves tackling the habit, which costs 80,000 lives a year.

But he is braced for more than 50 Tory MPs to defy his call and vote against the plans, which would prevent those under the age of 15 ever buying cigarettes.

The business secretary Kemi Badenoch, the environment secretary Steve Barclay and the Scotland secretary Alister Jack could also abstain when MPs vote on the plans later, according to reports.

Among the high-profile opponents are former prime minister Liz Truss, who has vowed to vote against the Bill, arguing in favour of freedom of choice.

Last week another former prime minister, Boris Johnson, described the plan as “nuts”.

Ms Truss denounced her successor’s plan as a “virtue-signalling piece of legislation about protecting adults from themselves in the future”.

She denounced the plan as “emblematic” of a “technocratic establishment” that wants to “limit freedom” And she warned Tory MPs against backing the ban, saying there were enough “finger-wagging, nannying control freaks” on the opposition benches and that Conservatives should “stand by our principles and our ideals”.

She also told MPs she feared the “health police” would push on other issues if a ban was introduced. “People are concerned about this,” she told the House of Commons. “They want to be able to make their own decisions about what they eat, what they drink and how they enjoy themselves.”

Former health secretary Lord Clarke also warned the move risked being difficult to enforce.

“You will get to a stage where if you are 42 years of age, you will be able to buy them but someone aged 41 will not be allowed to,” he told The Telegraph. “Does that mean you will have to produce your birth certificate? It may prove very difficult to enforce. Future generations will have to see whether it works or not.”

MPs will have a free vote on the ban, announced by the prime minister with great fanfare at last year’s Conservative party conference.

The government has decided not to whip the vote, saying it is a matter of conscience.

It is expected to pass as it has been backed by Labour.

MPs are to vote on the proposed smokig ban (PA)
MPs are to vote on the proposed smokig ban (PA)

Asked whether the PM would urge cabinet ministers to support the policy, his spokesman said: “He would urge everyone considering the Bill tonight to obviously vote with their conscience, but to consider that the Bill is seeking to ensure that future generations are smoke free.”

He also said the PM’s message was"If we want to build a better future for our children, we need to tackle the single biggest entirely preventable cause of ill-health, disability and death, which is smoking.... Obviously, as the PM has said previously, we respect that people's attitudes to smoking are a matter of conscience. That's why the votes on this policy will be free votes."

The chief medical officer Professor Sir Chris Whitty said cigarettes were a product "designed to take your choice away" through addiction.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "This is a really serious health problem. And the reason this is doubly problematic is that the majority, the great majority, of smokers wish they had never started, but they become addicted at an early age and then they're trapped and their choice has been taken away by that addiction.

"This is one of the reasons why the argument that 'if you're pro-choice, you're in favour of cigarettes' is so surprising, because this is a product which is designed to take your choice away from you.

A Home Office minister who took up smoking at 12 also said she would back the plan, saying she has “never met a single smoker who’s glad they did it”.

Laura Farris said the smoking bill – which would prevent those under the age of 15 from ever buying cigarettes – was a “very, very sensible policy”, adding that her own personal smoking habit was “one of my biggest regrets” and that it “took me years and years and years to quit.”

Conservative MP and arch-Sunak critic Sir Simon Clarke said that Mr Sunak’s plans to stop young people from ever smoking risk “making smoking cooler” and “creating a black market”.

Doctors and health charities have urged MPs to vote in favour of the proposals. Professor Steve Turner, president of the Royal College for Paediatrics and Child Health, said the Bill would “without a doubt … save lives”, while Charmaine Griffiths, chief executive of the British Heart Foundation, said: “Decisive action is needed to end this ongoing public health tragedy”.